Sunday, 18 March 2012

Revenge and Retribution

On March 15th I watched the return of Crosby when the Penguins took on the Rangers.  It was an entertaining game and Sid played well after a long recovery.  But a hit at approximately 9 minutes into the 3rd period confused me.  It was a cheap shot actually, when Engelland led with his forearm and hit Fedotenko in the head.   An obvious cheap shot with no penalty called.

But how could this happen?  The Penguins were playing the Rangers – a team with so many enforcers that they should be considered the NATO of the NHL.  The Rangers were so concerned about league violence that they added John Scott at the trade deadline.   This is a team that leads the league in enforcement, measured by fighting majors.  How could Engelland contemplate putting his forearm into the head of any Ranger in full view of the most effective police force that patrols the NHL?   If you listen to the pro-fighting pundits the mere presence of an enforcer on the ice will reduce all cheap shots and keep the players safe.

One of the issues with the “policing the game” theory is that it conflicts with one of the other arguments from the pro-fighting faction – that the game is fast moving and intense so collisions are expected and tempers will flare.  Therefore fighting helps to relieve the pressure within the game.  So on one hand we are led to believe that Engelland is sitting on bench thinking about not hitting someone in the head because Prust, Rupp and Bickel were all in the Rangers line-up (39 fights between these 3 peace-keepers).  He starts his shift at 8:13 of the 3rd period and has Fedotenko in his sights – but he hesitates because he doesn’t want to upset the trio of enforcers that would pounce.   Or do we believe that this particular hit came about on a split second decision by Engelland to use his body on Fedotenko.

I’ve played hockey and I’m pretty sure that any other hockey player will tell you that in the heat of the moment, when you are lining up a player for a hit, you aren’t thinking about who is sitting on the bench or what the result will be.  The game is too fast and the variables at any given moment are too many.  Your body simply reacts based on instinct and experience that comes from years of playing hockey.  Nobody is thinking about enforcers at that moment.  They might reflect for a moment when they are tying their skates before the game or they may have a thought when one of the enforcers takes a shot at one of their teammates – but not in the milliseconds before an act that might lead to a fight.

Enforcers are there for two primary reasons; to fight other enforcers and to exact revenge.

Coaches do not want 1st or 2nd line players taking on the other team’s tough guys.  That’s the job for the 4th line, usually press box-sitting enforcer.   When they talk about the good players having room to skate because of guys like Prust, Rupp and Bickel, they actually mean that these guys keep the opposing enforcers engaged, therefore the rest of the roster can play hockey.  If that’s the case, why not just get rid of the fighters on both side and just skate.

And when a player deserves some pay-back the enforcer climbs over the boards to “send a message” and police the game.   Like earlier this year on January 18th when Montreal’s Rene Bourque had to fight Matt Hendricks from Washington.   Hendricks, who had sat out the previous 4 games for the Capitals, was added to the roster specifically to go after Bourque.  The media had talked about it for days before the match and everyone knew it was coming.  Hendricks ignored the puck, and any semblance of playing hockey, and immediately went after Bourque.

I will use two tweets to emphasize my point – an impossibly small sample that is not absolute proof but both reinforce the hockey culture, and that fighting is about revenge and retribution.

Grant Harrison‏ - “Oilers forward Taylor Hall will not be returning to tonight's game." Heads up Sarich! This is why fighting will always exist”. (Friday, March 16th)

Roughly two minutes into the March 16th Oilers game against the Flames, Hall lost an edge and was simultaneously hit by Sarich, who had lined him up for a hit.  Hall suffered a concussion on the play but Sarich was not penalized because of Hall’s awkward fall right before the contact.  But the tweet by Grant suggests that Sarich will be targeted the next time these two teams play, and that is why fighting will always exist – for payback.

Pat O'Rourke - “Players like scott hartnell is the reason why fighting must stay in the NHL”. (Saturday, March 17th)

Pat is a Bruins fan (based on his Twitter profile) and his team won on March 17th.  On St. Patrick’s Day no less.  But he’s still not happy that the Flyer’s Hartnell played his regular game against his Bruins.  Looking at the game summary he came away with no points but did lay out several hits on a variety of Boston players.   Hartnell has over 60 points to go with his 155 hits and 124 PIMs.  He can’t change how he plays the game because that’s what makes him effective.  But Pat seems to think that fighting must stay in the NHL in order to penalize Hartnell every chance they get.

Like I said, a small sample.  But it’s a reflection of the attitude of those in the NHL that support fighting, that it’s required in order to exact revenge on opponents who have hit their players.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the hit was cheap or not, or that the offending player was penalized or suspended.  Enforcement means catching up with the “rat” at the next opportunity and making sure that retribution is obtained.   But it won’t stop players before the hits take place.  Policing is a myth.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the game suffers with the employment of goons. The European game is far superior, yes there are less hits, but because of that reason alone, are far more effective. Watching international hockey is far more exciting than watching an NHL game. Seeing skilled players having an opportunity to utilize their skills is well worth the price of goonless hockey. Unfortunately to sell the game in non traditional hockey markets to the unknowledgable fan, the NHL has turned a blind eye to the violence in the game while churning out the Shanahan propaganda to pacify those who abhor the violence. I can usually stomach one period before I turn to some other program.